Governor Rendell Says PA Wilds Initiative Generating Economic Benefits During Grand Opening of Latest Nature Tourism Site in Elk County

Oct 06, 2010, 10:45 ET from Pennsylvania Office of the Governor

'Green' Elk Country Visitor Center Stands as Signature Facility in PA Wilds Initiative

BENEZETTE, Pa., Oct. 6 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- At the peak of elk viewing season in the Pennsylvania Wilds, Governor Edward G. Rendell today officially opened the new Elk Country Visitor Center. The facility showcases a region known for its magnificent natural resources, majestic scenery and many opportunities to get an up-close view of wildlife.

The 8,420-square-foot green building, nestled on 245 acres owned by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, includes interactive interpretive exhibits, wildlife trails and viewing blinds, year-round restrooms and parking for cars and buses.

"We proposed this center three years ago as one of the first major state investments as part of our Pennsylvania Wilds initiative, so it's incredibly exciting to see it become a reality," Governor Rendell said. "People from all over the nation and all around the world come to this region to experience everything it has to offer. This center is now a key destination for those visitors. It's just another part of what my administration has done to boost tourism and economic development in the region and teach people the importance of conservation and environmental stewardship."

The Governor pointed to a report issued earlier this year showing the positive economic impact of the PA Wilds initiative:

  • From 2004 to 2008, while national park attendance was relatively flat, attendance at the 29 state parks within the Wilds region increased by 3.3 percent per year;
  • From 2002 to 2006, visitor spending within the Pennsylvania Wilds region grew by 6.3 percent per year;
  • From 2002 to 2007, tourism employment and earnings within the region increased by 0.5 percent and 5.4 percent per year, respectively.

For Elk County, the Governor said the initiative has boosted local revenues through higher hotel tax receipts, which increased 30 percent from $67,000 in 2005 to $87,000 in 2008.

The visitor center is already very popular. More than 20,000 visitors from 29 states and six countries have visited it since its "soft opening" in early September.

The facility includes a multimedia theatre complete with fiber optic star ceiling and a "smoking" campfire to immerse the visitor in the sights, sounds and smells of a mixed hardwood forest, the natural world of the elk and native wildlife and the heritage of the region. Web cameras also provide a glimpse of fields and wildlife beyond the viewing range of the center, and wildlife watching trails and viewing blinds to provide closer encounters for the more adventurous. The center also has space to accommodate school groups and special programs.

It also uses the latest green technologies to lessen environmental impact and showcase innovations in environmental sustainability, with features such as rainwater collection and reuse systems; night sky-friendly light fixtures; use of locally available materials and certified wood from sustainably harvested timber; and geothermal heating and cooling. The building is eligible for LEED "Gold" certification.

The commonwealth invested $6 million to build the center with another $6 million coming in the form of private donations and management costs. The Richard King Mellon, Dominion, and Thoreson foundations; Safari Club International; Eastern Chapter Foundation for North American Wild Sheep; Grice Gun Shop; and many individual donors made contributions for the center.

The facility is owned by DCNR and will be operated by the non-profit Keystone Elk Country Alliance, in conjunction with the department.

"Our intention for this world-class facility is to provide a safe and rewarding elk-watching experience and engage visitors in educational exhibits that will further their understanding of elk and their natural habitat," said Rawley Cogan, president and CEO of the Keystone Elk Country Alliance.

"This center will give us additional opportunities to reach out to new visitors—some 50 million of them in Pennsylvania and its surrounding states," Governor Rendell said. "Drawing visitors to this area is a great shot in the arm for local economies.

"Already, largely because of the response to the PA Wilds initiative, 15 bed and breakfasts, lodge and cabin operations have opened in Elk County. And since this center's soft opening last month, all businesses in Benezette have expanded their operating hours and the number of days they are open during the week to meet new customer demands. That's great news for the local and regional economy."

For more information about the Elk Country Visitor Center, visit or call 814-787-5167.

Media contact:

Christina Novak, DCNR; 717-772-9101

Michael Smith, Governor's Office; 717-783-1116

SOURCE Pennsylvania Office of the Governor